_dec 10, 2006 // sharp teeth reviewed
"...Beautifully ambitious, Sharp Teeth is every bit as personal as Angles but actively calls for the listener to join in the soul searching rather than pour over it like a voyeur. A compelling exploration of moral ambiguity and human disconnection peppered with religion and politics, the album sees Daniels obsessing over right and wrong and searching for that elusive truth that's haunted him since his childhood spent growing up in the Deep South.
Although now based 1,400 miles to northeast in North Carolina, on Sharp Teeth, Daniels draws heavily on the sounds of the South. Nashville slide guitars, nods to Dixieland jazz, drums, horns and choirs float effortlessly atop epic string arrangements. Listening to all of the album's 10 tracks back to back is an immersive experience; one that tugs and pulls at the senses, cloaking intricate songs with a heady emotion..."
~Norven Kane, the Stool Pigeon
_jan 27, 2006 // prayers and tears among "eight that rate"
"Perry Wright, the leader of The Prayers and Tears of Arthur Digby Sellers, does not think small. Some 14 people are credited as players on his group's latest album, a lush and sophisticated song cycle based on the dissolution of a marriage. And the next Prayers and Tears project will be even more ambitious, an album based on the life of infamous doomsday cult leader Jim Jones.
"I'm interested in seeing what I can bounce off that story with my own life and some fictional characters," Wright says. "Drug abuse, sex, murder, suicide, politics, religion, love, hate -- it has every great story arc in one crazy epic. It's like an abstract version of the common experiences of life, this guy who grew up in small-town Indiana and moved West. It seems like a circus version of the most banal life imaginable."
Helping the process along will be Chapel Hill's Bu Hanan collective, a cast of players that includes David Karsten Daniels and members of Kapow! Music, Go Machine and Physics of Meaning. Prayers and Tears had a great year in 2005, including two national tours with the Mountain Goats, setting things up nicely for that next album.
"My next step will be to play some of the songs for Alex [Lazara], the producer, so we can start fighting about where things are going," Wright says.
Fun fact: The band's name combines the title of John D. Caputo's 1997 book "The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida" with the name of a character from the 1998 Coen Brothers movie "The Big Lebowski.""
~David Menconi, the News & Observer
_jan 25, 2006 // mother of love... reviewed
"Despite the grandiloquent titles of both band and record, The Mother of Love Emulates the Shapes of Cynthia is an intimate listen perfectly suited to a band whose namesake inhabits an iron lung. (Arthur Digby Sellers is a minor character in the Coen Brothers film The Big Lebowski.) Similar in style and feel to the quixotic experiments of lo-fi alchemists like Sparklehorse and Sufjan Stevens, the Prayers & Tears of Arthur Digby Sellers is singer/songwriter and North Carolina native Perry Wright and a rotating cast of musicians; members of Ester Drang, the Polyphonic Spree, Sixpence None the Richer, and Bellafea all contribute to Wright's sophomore effort. The Mother of Love gets its title from a bit of paranoid but perceptive conversation overheard at a homeless shelter, and the songs ruminate on the tension between the construct of love and the universal entropy that destroys all (hence the record's subtitle, "The Study of Nature in the Light of Midday"). Simple acoustic vignettes are adorned with gentle accents like theremin, glockenspiel, cello, and violin, which then get tweaked through synthesizers and layers of drum programming (expertly handled by producer Alex Lazara). Some retain their lush, melancholic feel throughout; others erupt in sweeping guitar rave-ups more epic for the contrast. On "The Eventual Intimate of So Much Nostalgia," Wright's treated voice hovers ghost-like over acoustic guitar and eerie vibes, eventually supplanted by a wall of distorted guitars, drums, and strings; "Cannot Eat Better Not Sleep" follows a similar formula while contrasting the cold exterior of the narrator with the roiling emotions simmering within. "Rotation of Crops" begins with a metronomic heartbeat and acoustic guitar supporting a tale of spring love, before chamber-like strings and more guitar distortion raise the tension to a feverish pitch. Elsewhere, glitches and blips dominate: "Archaeopteryx" bubbles with synthesized static, and "Above the Waves" flickers like a fluorescent light on the fritz. Other songs are delivered fairly straightforwardly. "Disposable Drummers in Disposable Bands" is a country shuffle that glides by on organ and the slide guitar of David Daniels, "Ammunition for a Bolt-Action Heart" is an early Roxy Music-meets-Neutral Milk Hotel epic, and "Raise Up, You Celestial Choirs" builds into an elegiac, full-throated crescendo worthy of its title and reminiscent of Arcade Fire's transcendent songs. No matter the forms they take, these songs share a desolate, lonely feel, a product of their minor-key construction, unorthodox instrumentation, and engaging but often nihilistic lyrics. But these elements fit the subject matter with such skill that the songs transcend any suggestion that, with its ostentatious song titles and high-brow conceits, The Mother of Love crosses the line from precocious to pretentious. Wright's emotional honesty and the simple strength of his metaphors keep this record thoroughly grounded, even as it soars heavenward on the strength of its sublime music."
~John Schacht, All Music Guide
_jan 25, 2006 // mother of love... reviewed
"I don’t have to tell you, ya know, that as a music critic I get, like, a shitload of promo albums in the mail. Stacks of cardboard slips and cracked jewel cases begging to be indulged; I sit on the rug in my bedroom and my world is walled in by the ephemera of a New Digital Age. World as such, it’s only logical to be so discerning with USPS stock. I have to be picky (and I deserve to be picky…). I’m a busy person, and I only have so many 50 minute periods in one day.
So, when long, garrulous titles catch my eye and then harvest my eye as I ponder the implications of such a long string of nouns and modifiers and ampersands, I’m bound to take that promo out of the flock and listen to it. That’s the basic sketch of how I came upon The Mother of Love Emulates the Shapes of Cynthia, the sophomore album from Perry Wright lovechild The Prayers & Tears of Arthur Digby Sellers. I totally listened to it.
Two facts, bang boom: TP&ToADS is a collective with Wright as singer/singwriter, Alex Lazara as producer and etc., and a revolving cast of musicians; the song titles are also long and esoteric. These beget three assumptions that prove to be true: Like Godspeed or, ugh, Bright Eyes, a concept album seems a reasonable conceit; Arrangements will be meticulous with a jones for bombast; the lead person (Wright) will be smart enough to stand behind and defend the pretentious front of fancy words. In case you don’t think so, I’ll leave the explication for Perry and Alex themselves. I totally read that shit.
You may have noticed that Wright seems to know his philosophers and has an active grasp on major concepts and arguments. Some of his ruminations and lyrical constructs are fascinating, like when he describes “Above the Waves” and relates a mid-week passage in Genesis to the endless creation and destruction and design inherent in human cloning, applying that to the unifying concept of a marriage in shifting crises, and it all makes sense somehow. Really, it does. Strangely then, when Mother of Love’s lyrics never reach the clarity or curiosity of his explanations of the lyrics, despite however many ideas he packs into one sentence. There’s my largest disappointment with this disc; I admire a writer (Wright’s definitely one) who can find the sublime in simplicity, but most of his verses straddle the fence between morosely cliché and obtuse. The beginning of “Ontothanatological” goes, “If our ship went down / And spilled us out / Would you think of me / And smile as you drowned?” after implying something “the size of a fist” will break in seeing “you” in an earlier song, and then closing the album with lyrics like,“Raise up, you celestial choir / You’re always running out of words to say,” and a song about a love affair. Healthy intuition will lead a listener toward threads of relationship issues, religious allegories dueling with metaphysical semantics, and even Modernity and social decay. Which is why this all sounds self-absorbed.
Which is why I thought “Ontothanatological” was about the alienation of a person in modern society and the necessity of self-absorption for survival. Turns out that’s not really the case. So, something was lost in the lyrics, which happens often on this album, and even though Wright encourages subjective listening, the conceptual weight that couples with his dripping voice at the front of most mixes leaves me befuddled. And that Appendix is a whole ‘nother beast.
Ya see, I thought up this funny nick-name for the band. It’s “Death Cak-ak For Cutie/Family.” Not only does this nifty alchemy of proper nouns help me sort this record out from the promo landfill, but I think it (safely) characterizes the Prayers & Tears sound. Wright isn’t as completely obnoxious as Ben Gibbard, and his lyrics aren’t as overtly terrible, but his timbre resembles the indie darling’s and his dramatic heft is anything but subtle—as the Broadway bridge in “Above the Waves” demonstrates, complete with crashing voice crack. Then, like Akron/Family’s debut, the songs of MOL have a soothing consistency, using some tracks as mood pieces or transitions, and then breaking the bare crawl for moments of obliterating glory. Perhaps chided by his Gibbard superego, Wright ascends to heights with a fatness of sound, as opposed to Akron’s pared, reluctant, anthemic approach. Still, the opening track is the perfect apotheosis, I think, of this album’s intentions.
“The Eventual Intimate of So Much Nostalgia,” first establishing itself as a minor key acoustic dirge, explodes and rawks with guitars, drumkit, Rhodes, and violin, all mostly compressed until the speakers split. It’s exhilarating, and Wright’s voice still maintains a silky thickness through tricky terrain. For the following 50 minutes, each track retains a similar aesthetic aim, either wandering through synth and theremin and all manner of aleatoric noise with a hushed vocalist, or BLAMBLAMBLAM-ing with insane cymbals and loud, fizzling drum loops. The jambalaya works, though, and it becomes a reward to pick through the elusive umbrage of it all. Things may get predictable in a late 90s “post-…” kitschy kinda way, and you may find yourself ready to scream at Wright and Lazara to just lay off, but not all turgid epics can sound this unabashedly and effortlessly Epic.
Oh, and then there’re “Rotation of Crops” and “Ammunition of a Bolt-Action Heart,” both of which stomp out all the other songs on the album and both of which do it mostly on the back of a fantastic violin melody. Plus, “Ammunition” could have easily replaced anything on You Could Have It So Much Better and lifted that mess up an echelon or two.
In the end, the promise of The Prayers & Tears of Arthur Digby Sellers doesn’t exactly live up to the depth of the songs. That leaves the promise for a future release. Besides, the ambition and execution of the band’s ideas are enough to charm even the most sedate, desensitized critic. Like me, the one whose opinions you demand, whose opinions you trust, even when I make up gross hyperbole to quell the acid of defeat caused by a lack of proper musicianship. In other words, I got the pretty packaging. I’m wrapped tightly in sparkles, baby. Fuck what’s inside, pretty packaging’s enough to swivel heads. "
~Dom Sinacola, CokeMachineGlow
next year: 2007
previous year: 2005